ETCHED UPON MY HEART
Christine hurried across the deserted cobblestone street. The chill in the evening air forcing her to quicken her steps. She hugged her worn grey wool cloak more closely about her slender frame. A smile formed around her lips as the familiar building came into view. Christine ran up the stairs leading into the hospital and within minutes she was greeted with a warm motherly smile from Mary. Mary politely asked about her family and offered to get her some warm milk to shake off the chill. Christine declined the offer and went in search of Dr. Alexander. She found him tending to Mr. Higgins, who had nothing better to do than to fall out his back door and twist his ankle.
“Well, here is a sight for sore eyes,” said Mr. Higgins. Then he added, “My dear, you light up the room with your presence.”
“Whatever have you done to yourself?”
“Had a bit of an accident, I did. Nothing Doc here can’t make as good as new.” As Mr. Higgins spoke, he patted Dr. Alexander on the arm. “Ain’t that right Doc?”
“It will take more than a couple of stairs to take the fight out of an old sea dog like yourself.” Turning away from Mr. Higgins, Dr. Alexander addressed Christine with a firm voice tone, “If memory serves me, you were not scheduled to be here tonight. Please explain why you are here.”
Over the years she had grown accustomed to his abrupt mannerisms. Casually she stated, “I thought you could use an extra pair of hands.” Christine waved her hands in the air to add meaning to what she was saying.
“Not tonight! “He snapped. “Now go home.” Christine prepared to argue with him but he silenced her with a look. Then more softly he said, “You will not be any good to any of your patients unless you start to take better care of yourself. I will not have my nurse passing out from exhaustion when I need her the most. This is not a request, Christine, it is an order. Go home!”
Christine’s face fell. She nodded her acceptance of his decision and attempted to ignore the snorting sound that came from Mr. Higgins. Instead she turned to say good evening to him before quietly leaving the room.
As the door closed she heard Mr. Higgins say, “Doc, you were a bit tough on her.”
Christine held her head up high as she made her way to the stairs. She had reached the top of the stairs when Julian called her name. Christine stopped and reluctantly turned to face him. With a slight quiver in her voice she asked, “Are you planning to personally escort me out of your hospital?”
“I trust that will not be necessary. My concern is for your health. You look tired and during the past few weeks you have been working extremely long hours.”
“I do not mind the hard work and I enjoy taking care of others.”
“Try taking care of yourself. Spend some time with your parents. Why just last Sunday, your father gave me what for because you have been working so hard.”
“Daddy had no right!”
Julian said gently, but firmly, “He had every right. You are his little girl and he loves you.”
Christine fell silent at his mild rebuke. “Goodnight, Dr. Alexander.” She descended the stairs, waved goodbye to Mary and headed out into the bitter cold night air.
The church bells rang out in celebration of another Christmas Eve. Christine made her way outside of the church and stood waiting for her parents. She smiled brightly as she watched Mrs. Bishop’s approach.
“You look lovely, my dear.” Christine received a warm hug from the elderly woman.
“Did you know that my Richard is home from the war? He asked about you just this morning. He wanted to know if you were the same scrawny kid that he used to push in the mud. I proudly informed him that you were a nurse and that you work with Dr. Alexander. My dear, I could not be any more proud of you, if you were my own child.”
“Richard asked me to tell you to stop by and say hello. How about you and your family come by this evening for coffee and dessert?”
“Thank you for the offer, but we are all going over to Uncle Ed’s house for dinner. And you know how daddy is when he gets with his brother.”
Actually, Ed was not a blood relative. But he had been around since before Christine’s brothers were born and he and her dad seem to share a bond much closer than that of blood kin. Everyone in the community accepted them as brothers.
“Yes, indeed I do,” Mrs. Bishop chuckled. Lordy, she thought, those two men could sing. Listening to the two of them sing in church was enough to make the most loathsome soul want to repent.
“Well, keep us in mind and if you get a chance, feel free to drop on over. I promise that Richard will not push you in the mud like he did when you were both little.” Mrs. Bishop chuckled again.
Christine thanked Mrs. Bishop for her kind offer. After giving the older woman another quick hug, she went in search of her parents.
Betsy and David Bishop enjoyed entertaining and no time was more celebrated than the Christmas holiday season. Richard mingled with several guests before grabbing his coat and slipping out the side door. He was in need of some fresh air and an opportunity to collect his thoughts. The war had taken its toll on him both physically and mentally. Where once he had a beautiful stride, he now walked with a slight limp. He had injured his left leg during one of many battles in which he had bravely fought. It was difficult for him to understand how a nation could be so divided on such a basic principle as freedom. He marveled at how easy things where here in Salem. Everyone was treated the way they wanted to be treated. He had grown up with the black folks as neighbors and friends. He could not fathom a world in which Jimmy was not his best friend or one in which Pastor Stokes was not allowed to preach on Sunday morning. And yet, he had seen firsthand the horrors that were inflicted on another race simply because of their skin color. It was during those times that he was grateful for his religious convictions and his upbringing that attested to the fact that all mankind was created in God’s image.
Richard walked with no real direction or purpose. He found himself heading towards the center of town. Stopping to rest his injured leg, he leaned against the old pecan tree. It was then that he noticed a grey cloaked figure dash across the street. He watched as the figure went into the town square and he followed. Christine had just seated herself on the bench by the big old Magnolia tree, when a voice said, “So you would rather sit here in the cold alone, instead of joining my folks?”
She turned to face the young man that had addressed her. Calmly she replied, “It was not your parents that I was seeking to avoid. They are wonderful, kind people. Not at all like their son.”
A smile slowly began to crease his face as he spoke,“Should I be insulted by that remark?”
“You can be whatever you want as long as you do it someplace else.”
“If memory serves, this square is open to all who care to visit it. Therefore, I am within my rights to be here.”
“In that case, I will leave.” Christine stood and made to leave, but his hand on her arm forestalled her departure.
“Why, may I ask, are you so angry with me?”
“For starters, you used to push me in the mud when we were children. And you always made fun of my size.”
“I would think that those are enough reasons for me not to be overjoyed by your presence.”
“That and the fact that I kissed you before I left town.”
“I barely remember that,” Christine dismissed the thought as she tried to pull away from the hand that held her captive. Richard smiled once again, showing off his boyish dimples.
“You are a little liar, but we will play this game your way. It will allow me the pleasure of refreshing your memory.”
Richard pulled her slowly towards him and kissed her passionately. Christine was breathless and a bit flushed after their kiss. She fought to regain her composure as she stared at the man standing before her. After several seconds she asked, “Why did you do that?”
“Most men enjoy kissing the woman they intend to marry.” Christine was speechless as she stood transfixed to one spot.
“Do not look so surprised. I have known since we were children that someday we would be husband and wife. I did not dare ask you before I went off to war in the event that the worst happened and I did not return. I could not bear the thought of leaving you a young widow.” He reached out and gently caressed her cheek.
Christine was at a loss for words. She mumbled the first thing that came to mind.
“But, you were always so mean to me.”
“I was trying to get you to notice me. When your brother Jimmy was not around, who used to look out for you? Think. I have always been involved in your life. And if you will have me, I would like to spend the rest of my life taking care of you.”
With that said, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a simple, but elegant diamond and gold engagement ring. Richard took off his overcoat and placed it on the icy cold ground. Kneeling on one knee he said, “Christine Ann Alston, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
Christine sat in her large open parlor and watched as Richard asked her father for her hand in marriage. Stanley Alston was a tough, God fearing man. He valued his family and had worked hard through the years to provide them with a decent home and plenty of food on the table. Stanley had paid for both his sons and his daughter to go off overseas, where slavery had been abolished, to get themselves a good education. His oldest son, Frank had decided to remain abroad. Stanley had accepted this because he did not want his children to have to do back-breaking work in order to survive.
Life had not always been kind to Stanley. As a child he had been ripped away from his family and sold into slavery. He endured the living hell of his fate for over sixteen years. During those years he was not seen as a person, but rather an ignorant animal. It was not until he was seventeen and had been purchased by a kindly old man that his life had begun to change. Stanley and his master had been traveling eastward when a terrible thunderstorm hit. Just as they started across an old wooden bridge, a fierce streak of lightening struck the bridge. The bridge appeared to splinter into several pieces, tossing them into the icy stream below. Stanley had been swept along with the rushing current until he had managed to grab onto a floating piece of the carriage.
He had awakened several days later in a small town hospital with a kindly doctor who assured him that he would be fine and that his broken leg would mend. When he inquired about his traveling partner, he had been informed that no other bodies had been found. Apparently, he had dragged himself some three or four miles and was picked up by a local missionary and carried another fifteen miles to the local hospital. It was upon learning this news that Stanley Alston was born. The people in the town accepted him despite his dark skin tone. He had been treated as an equal. The doctor that had mended his body, taught him to read and write and the local blacksmith hired him and paid him a fair wage for a day’s work.
Stanley had been living in Salem over a year before he met Vanessa. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her mother was the local school mistress and her father worked at the mill. He prayed as he courted and married Vanessa that the hatred, ignorance and blind prejudice that existed outside of Salem would never touch his children.
Now, here he was sitting in his parlor and all the old fears and insecurities came rushing back. He had never shared the early years of his life with anyone including his lovely wife. Stanley was not sure if he could entrust his only daughter’s happiness to a white man.
The silence in the room concerned Christine. Her father was reserved by nature, but she had never known him to be pensive for such a long period of time. Tentatively she said, “Daddy, Richard and I are waiting for an answer.”
Stanley focused on his youngest child and tried to collect his thoughts. He wanted nothing more than to refuse to allow his child to marry the man before him. Richard was a nice enough young man, but he was not the right man for Christine.
“Are your parents aware that you intend to marry a colored girl?”
“What they are aware of sir, is that I love Christine and that she shares the same feelings for me. Color is not an issue, sir.”
Stanley sighed as he looked at the two young people sitting before him. To allow them to marry would condemn them both to a life of misery. But, if he refused, he would lose the love and respect of his little girl. With a resigned sigh he stated, “Until every man is free and treated with respect, color will always be an issue, son. You have gone beyond the safety of our town. You have witnessed firsthand the cruelty that exists outside of this here town. The only way that the two of you could be happy is if you remain here in this town for the rest of your lives. For Christine this is a fact of her existence unless she is going to follow her brother overseas. However, for you it would mean giving up your freedom to live anywhere in the world you choose. The world will not accept the two of you as husband and wife.”
“I am not asking the world to accept anything, sir. I am asking, however that you give me your permission to marry your daughter, the woman that I love. You have my word that I will never allow anyone or anything to harm her. I can and I will protect her from the ugliness that exists outside of Salem.”
Stanley looked directly at his lovely daughter, the fear and pain evident in his dark eyes as he asked, “Christine, dear is this really what you want?”
“Yes, I love him, daddy.”
“How I wish that were not the case.” Stanley stood and walked over to Richard. Looking down at the young man still seated, he said in a deadly calm voice, “I believe that this marriage is a mistake. But, I will not stand in your way. Understand this, if she is ever hurt because of this union, there will be no place in the world safe for you.” Stanley knew that to threaten a white man outside of Salem would have been an immediate death sentence. Nonetheless, he stood by his statement knowing full well that he would follow Richard to the backside of hell if it meant protecting his daughter.
Richard swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat as Stanley stood looming over him. He had faced many dangerous situations in his young life because that was the nature of war. None of those situations had intimidated him as much as asking Stanley Alston for his daughter’s hand in marriage. As Richard sat looking up into the older man’s eyes, he knew that Stanley was capable of following through with his implied threat.
A few days later Christine found herself at work dreaming about the day she and Richard would start a family of their own. Christine pressed a cool cloth onto Mrs. Fox’s forehead. The woman reached for her hand and gave it a squeeze just before she let out a high pitched scream.
“There is something wrong, I can feel it!” She panted as she held on tightly to Christine’s hand.
“I am sure if there was anything for you to be concerned about that the doctor would tell you. So let’s not worry unless we have a good reason to do so.”
Dr. Alexander entered the room and checked to see if it was time for the next Fox to make its entrance into the world. He frowned, but he continued to speak in a calm and gentle voice.
“This child of yours is being quite stubborn. Undoubtedly, it is a girl,” He stated matter-of-factly. “I am going to have to turn her around so that she will come out head first. Christine will be here the entire time and what I need for you to do is to concentrate on her and allow me to have a talk with this stubborn child of yours.”
Julian looked at Christine and mouthed, “It is important that she remains calm.”
Christine talked about everything that she could think of, from the New Year celebration that had taken place a few short weeks ago, to the harvesting of the new crop. Occasionally, Mrs. Fox would give a loud moan as the tears rolled down her face. But, for the most part she stayed focused on Christine. It was not until Mrs. Fox heard the crying sound of her baby that Christine stopped rambling on. Mrs. Fox looked over at a small, perfect little angel. It was then that her tears of agony were instantly replaced with those of joy. Julian raised one dark eyebrow.
“It appears that I was mistaken in my earlier assumption that only a girl could be so stubborn. You are the proud mother of a beautiful son.” He cut the umbilical cord and handed the small bundle to Christine for her to clean up. Once that task was completed, Christine wrapped the child in a warm blanket and placed him in his mother’s waiting arms.
“I will be back in just a few minutes. Someone needs to let Earl know that he has a son.” Julian beamed, “After three daughters, he finally has a son.”
Christine was exhausted by the time she finished tending to Mrs. Fox and little Matthew. That was the name that Mrs. Fox had chosen for her little miracle. Christine was resting with her head tilted back and her eyes closed in the small room that served as Julian’s office when he entered. She did not hear him come in. It was not until he began to speak that she realized that she was no longer alone.
“I understand that congratulations are in order.”
Christine slowly opened her eyes to look at the man standing stiffly before her. It was evident by the confused look on her face that she was not sure for what she was being congratulated.
“On your upcoming marriage,” He offered.
“Are you in love with him?”
A frown creased between her brows as she wondered why he would ask such a strange question. Of course she was in love with in. With a measure of confidence she replied, “I would not marry him if I did not love him.”
“Then he is a very lucky man. Have the two of you set a date?”
Christine smiled up at him and stated, “June 20th.”
He gazed at her as if trying to read her mind. Then he abruptly turned and headed for the door.
Christine was surprised by his behavior, so much so that she found herself calling him.
“Julian, why are you angry with me? Did I do something to displease you during Mrs. Fox’s delivery?”
Julian paused briefly with his back still turned to her. He stated awkwardly, “Yes, you did do something to displease me, but it has nothing to do with Mrs. Fox or her baby.” He squared his shoulders and quickly left the room.
Betsy and David Bishop gave a party to announce the engagement of their youngest son. It was a grand party with over forty guests in attendance. The fresh baked bread and catfish could be smelled for miles. There was plenty of everything, including spirits. Christine and Richard mingled with their guests before deciding to steal a few minutes alone in Betsy‘s garden. The cool air and scent of holly berries tickled Christine‘s nose. She absently walked over to the holly bush and pulled off a spray. As she walked, the skirt of her long emerald green dress rustled in the wind. Richard watched her from a distance. He had known all his life that she was the woman for him.
The concerns that her father had raised were irrelevant as far as he was concerned. It did not matter to him that they would need to remain in Salem. This was his home, and he had always intended to raise his family here surrounded by family and friends.
“I guess we should head in before you catch a cold,” he voiced aloud as he stood watching the beautiful woman that would soon be his wife.
“Must we? It is so quiet and peaceful out here.”
Richard walked towards her and stated, “Well I suppose I could keep you warm for a few minutes.” He wrapped his arms around her and they stood gazing up at the stars as the uproarious noise from the party drifted off into the distance.
The next few months moved by quickly. Christine continued her work at the hospital, but something had changed in her relationship with Dr. Alexander. He was reserved, distant and he went out of his way to avoid being around her. It was the week before her wedding and Mary had been called away due to the passing of her cousin in South Carolina. Christine had taken on Mary‘s duties as well as maintaining those of her own.
She had just finished putting some ointment on little Sammy for poison ivy when she heard Julian’s all too familiar voice.
“Nurse, would it be asking for too much to have some clean bandages in the supply closet?” He snapped harshly.
Christine was on the verge of tears as she brushed by him and headed in search of the bandages. Julian sighed. He felt like a bastard for hurting her. He knew as he watched her departing figure that he would have to find her and make amends.
Julian found her in the storage closet twenty minutes later restocking the shelves. He stood watching her silently for several seconds. He loved the way her soft brown curls framed her face. Julian had to admit he loved the sight of her and the thought that she was about to promise herself to another man was killing him. With more calm than he felt, he began to speak, “I am truly sorry for being such an insensitive jerk. This is the week before your wedding and I am sure that you have a thousand things to do. I did not mean to speak to you harshly and I sincerely appreciate the extra help that you have given me during Mary‘s absence.”
Christine looked at him with her tear-streaked face. Her voice was unsteady as she spoke.
“It is not just today, Julian. You have been angry with me for months and unless you tell me what I am doing wrong, I cannot hope to make it better.”
“Does what I think or feel really matter to you?”
She took a tentative step towards him, the misery she felt clear in her soft hazel eyes.
“Why of course it does. Not only do I value you as a terrific doctor, but I thought we had developed a friendship.” He took hold of both her hands before clearing his throat. Then he began to speak. “The only thing that you have done wrong is to fall in love.”
Christine’s confusion was evident by the way she had tilted her head to one side to stare at the man standing before her. Softly she voiced her confusion, “I am afraid I do not understand.”
“With someone other than me. Now do you understand?”
It took several minutes before the realization behind his statement registered in her foggy brain. She pulled her hands away from him and stepped back, shaking her head as if to deny his declaration.
“You cannot possibly mean what I think you mean. I have never, I mean have never.” Christine fell silent, but she continued to stare at him.
He continued to speak gently, “I always thought that you had feelings for Richard, but the funny thing was that you did not seem aware of your own feelings. When he went off to the war I had hoped that he would decide to seek his fortune elsewhere. But, it was not meant to be. So you have the honor of having two men deeply in love with you. One you will marry and the other will never mention this again.”
Her voice quivered as she asked, “Why did you not tell me this before now?”
“Would it have made a difference?”
Christine refused to allow herself to think about his question. She wanted to say something. To reassure him that she never meant for this to happen. She wanted to tell him that she valued his friendship and that a part of her did love him. But, she had promised herself to another. If Richard had not returned then maybe they could have had a life together. Instead she stood there with tears in her eyes until the silence became too unbearable and she fled from the tiny closet.
The church bells rang out in joyous celebration of the lives that had been joined together in a beautiful ceremony. The newlyweds stepped out into the bright, sun-filled courtyard. Almost everyone in town gathered around to toss rice on the happy couple as they descended the stairs. Pastor Stokes smiled warmly as he hugged the bride. This was the part that he liked most about his calling, joining two lives together in Holy matrimony. He had known both Christine and Richard since before they could walk. To see them happy and starting off on a life together made him feel as if he were truly doing God’s work.
Doubt crept into his thoughts momentarily as he remembered the conversation that he had with Stanley Alston about the differences in their race. Despite him agreeing to allow the marriage to occur, Stanley still had some strong reservations about its success. Pastor Stokes refused to allow such negative thoughts to spoil his happiness. Christine and Richard would be fine as long as they remained within the safe confines of Salem.
A reception for the newlyweds was held in the tavern. Vanessa, Betsy and several of the other ladies had spent all of the previous day making the place look festive. There were fresh flowers everywhere. The wooden tables had been covered with fresh, white linen tablecloths. Sitting on a table in the center of the room was a large three tier cake.
Christine looked around and marveled at the transformation that had occurred. She had wanted to have their reception in the church’s fellowship hall, but because there were so many people planning on attending, they had been forced to seek a larger place. The once dusty, old place had been turned into a place of elegance.
Christine and Richard had shared the first dance and now she was dancing with the second most wonderful man in the room, her father. Stanley looked dashing in his long black coat and tails.
“Are you happy, my dear?”
“Oh yes, father. More happy than I thought humanly possible.”
“I wish for you and your brothers a lifetime of happiness that will never end. God knows I have tried to give you everything possible to keep you safe and happy.”
“Please do not worry daddy, Richard and I will be happy. The horrors that you speak of will not touch us as long as we remember our love for each other.”
Stanley looked at his nineteen year old baby and saw such an innocent young woman. He said a silent prayer that nothing or no one would ever remove that sparkle from her eyes. Just as Stanley finished his little prayer he was tapped lightly on the shoulder.
“May I cut in?” Dr. Alexander bowed slightly as he extended his hand to Christine. Stanley smiled as he placed his daughter’s hand into the outstretched hand of Doctor Alexander.
“How much longer are you planning on avoiding me?”
“I was not aware that I had been …” Before she could finish her sentence he cut her off.
“I did not make my declaration to you to make you feel uncomfortable. You asked why I had been distant and I informed you why. I was not expecting my confession to change anything and it is obvious that it did not. Are you planning on returning to work after your honeymoon?”
“I am not so sure that would be a good idea. People are beginning to stare, I should join my husband.”
“The only reason people are looking is because you are a beautiful bride. As far as any other reason, it is in your mind. I respect you and the vows that you made. You are a good nurse. The people here both like and trust you. If you choose not to return to work I will understand. Please do me the courtesy of remaining until I locate a suitable replacement.”
Christine did not understand why her heart felt as if it were breaking. The one thing she was sure of was that she did not wish to cause Julian any pain.
“Julian, you are one of the last people on this earth that I would ever wish to hurt. You are a brilliant doctor and a wonderful and compassionate man. I enjoy working with you. I am truly sorry for any pain or discomfort that I might have caused you.”
“After today, there is nothing else that you could do to hurt me.”
Christine looked up into his face and saw the sorrow reflected in his eyes. But, he too noticed a brief something in her eyes.
Richard and Christine settled into the four room, two-story house that her parents had given them for a wedding present. The house stood at the end of town on land that was adjacent to her parent’s house. It was nestled beneath several pine trees and in the spring time there was the most wonderful smell of fresh lilies. Christine remembered when her father had purchased the dilapidated little house. Stanley had been convinced that he and his two sons could restore the house to its former beauty.
Within a few weeks Christine and Richard had settled into a comfortable routine with him working for his father at the steel company and her continuing her duties at the hospital. The winter had been a difficult one for the farmers and folks were forced to share what provisions there were. Even with the tough times, Christine was happy. She and Dr. Alexander had developed a friendship once again and that nonsense about him loving her was never mentioned. All was going well until one winter’s day when a letter was delivered to Richard from one of his military friends that was stationed in Washington D. C.
The letter requested that Richard report to Washington, D. C. for active duty. Although the war had ended, it was necessary for the new President to have brave and loyal men at his side as he tried to move the country forward past all the hurt and killings. Of course the letter went on to entice Richard by offering him the rank of Captain, if he chose to serve his country once again. Despite himself, Richard was intrigued by the prospect of being in the nation‘s capital and the promotion was something to consider. He was sure that he would enjoy the travel and social life that such a position would surely bring.
Since the war had ended, was there any real reason for him and Christine to remain in Salem? As the wife of a Captain, he was sure that Christine would be given the proper amount of respect due to her.
Christine was not as easily swayed as he had been. She reluctantly agreed to him going to Washington and discussing the details of his marriage with those in charge and based on their reaction to his circumstances, he would make the best decision possible for their future.
Both sets of in-laws expressed their concerns, but they were assured that he would not make any rash decisions. Christine would remain in Salem until he had looked into the situation. It was late June, shortly after their first year anniversary when Richard left for Washington with the promise that he would return soon.
The summer days seemed to drag on for Christine. She put in many hours at the hospital and spent the remaining hours with her family. Between her mother and mother Betsy, they kept her busy with canning, making quilts and gossip. They were always trying to find someone for doc Alexander to marry. For some reason the thought of Julian getting married was disheartening to Christine. She would quickly change the subject to something not quite as troubling.
It was late November when Christine received a letter from Richard that outlined their plans for the future. She had been sitting on the porch, enjoying a nice cup of tea and talking to her mother when the letter arrived. Christine had dreaded this moment since the day Richard left. From the moment that she began to read the letter, she had doubts about their future happiness. Her father‘s concerns echoed in her ears as she continued to read.
“My Dearest Christine,
I am writing to inform you that things have truly changed for the better. President Andrew Johnson is continuing the work started by President Lincoln by giving his full support to the Freedman‘s Bureau which was established just last year to provide food, as well as medical and legal help to emancipated blacks and needy whites. We are striving for a future built on equality and not forced slavery. There are a few half-witted people here that might have to get used to us as a couple, but for the most part we will be accepted. Why with your wonderful personality you will be the belle of every party. I am confident that you will win over the biggest skeptics. I should be home in about a month‘s time to collect you and a few of our belongings. I am so looking forward to seeing you and holding you in my arms once again.
Love now and always, your adoring husband.”
Christine wiped a single tear off her cheek as she handed the letter to her mother. She stood and descended the stairs to the yard.
“Where are you going, child? And what has you so upset?”
“Read the letter in your hand mama and you will understand. I need some time to think about the future. I am just going to take a walk. I will be back soon.”
Christine knew in her heart that she had no choice but to follow her husband and hope that he was right about things having changed since the war. She was terrified of leaving the confines of such a close and loving community. What about her work? Would this new town accept a black nurse or would she be forced to sit at home and have babies? Not that there was anything wrong with that, she just needed more. She enjoyed helping others and feeling useful.
The cold winter’s wind whipped around her, causing her to regret the foolishness that had caused her to leave without her heavy shawl. As she walked, she wondered why with so many contributions from blacks that they could not be embraced as equals? Had the world forgotten that it was a black man, Benjamin Banneker that President George Washington appointed to the commission to help plan the Capital city back in 1789? These were the kind of things that angered Christine as she thought about the outside world and having to live within it; a world full of violence, ignorance and blind hatred. What about her family?
Daddy would never leave Salem to come and visit her in the big city. His fears were far too real for that. This situation was such a mess. What to do was the question that lingered in her mind. She aimlessly wandered town until dusk fell and then she returned home to find her mother and father waiting to speak with her. Christine could tell by the set of her father’s jaw, that he had not taken the news well. Stanley wasted no time on pleasantries as he demanded, “What is wrong with that damn fool husband of yours? Is he trying to go off and get my baby hurt or worse?”
Christine sighed. How could she ease her father’s concerns when she shared them herself? Bravely she stated, “Daddy, I am sure if Richard is willing to move us, he feels certain that I will be in no danger.”
“Then he is a damn, unrealistic fool.” Stanley thundered, “You must refuse to leave!”
“Would you have me dishonor my marriage vows and refuse to follow my husband?”
“I would have you do whatever it takes to keep from being hurt. You have been sheltered all your life from the cruelty that exists outside of this here town. You would not survive among the hatred and bitterness. For your own sake, convince your husband that your safety and happiness depend on you remaining here!”
Vanessa touched him gently on the arm before speaking, “Let it go for now, Stanley. She must follow her heart.”
“Not if it gets her killed.” Stanley stood and forcibly stated, “I should have followed my own heart and refused to allow this union to happen. I knew that boy would bring you nothing but heartache.” Stanley stormed into the house and the door slammed behind him.
The sound of the slamming door bought Christine to tears. She sat outside and watched the stars for a long time. Finally, she wiped the tears from her cheeks and gathered up the courage to go inside. She mumbled goodnight to her parents as she headed for her old room. Since Richard left, she had taken to spending some nights at her parent’s house. Now she wished she had the solitude of her own home to help her sort through her feelings about the future. She sighed as she snuggled down under the covers. Tomorrow was another day and plenty of time to think about the changes that were about to occur in her life.